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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 21, 2011 11:00am-11:40am EDT

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gaithersburg, maryland. here's our schedule: ..
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etf with kinect. tom shroder with that the 11. >> my name is john bauer. like many authors here today i am sharing the mission, gaithersburg supports the arts and culture. we present this event free of charge thanks to support generous sponsors. consideration of everyone here, please silence any devices. this is critical to improving this event. surveys are available here at the information desk and online at our web site and everyone who submits a survey will be entered into the random drawing so please fill out the surveys. we welcome c-span's booktv and viewers across the country. if there's time for audience questions please make sure to use the microphone so everyone
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can hear you. tom shroder will be signing books after this presentation and his book is on sale at barnes and noble. tom schroeder -- tom shroder has been writer and editor for many years. he was at washington post magazine which won 2008-2010 pulitzer prize for feature writing. in addition to be an auditor and editor he is one of the foremost editors of humor in the country. he has edited humor columns john barry and launched the syndicated comic strip cul-de-sac by richard thompson. his latest book with captain john konrad received upstanding reviews, "fire on the horizon: the untold story of the gulf oil disaster" published by harper collins this spring. in april of 2010 we watched media coverage of the deepwater
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horizon oil rig explosion and and and check flow of crude oil into the gulf of mexico. the environmental impact is unfathomable. 11 people died and thousands more have their lives and livelihood forever impacted by the oil spill. tom shroder takes off the and it kind back story of maritime tradition, economics, politics and corporate policy that culminated in the disaster and with clear insight for writing shows what happened and how and to whom. the most compelling thing about this book is it is a very human story. please help me welcome tom shroder. [applause] >> thanks for coming out today on such a gorgeous day. i have to say in advance that i haven't had a chance to prepare as i usually do for these talks because i spent the last couple
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weeks in a very scary situation. my son who is becoming a scuba diving instructor got an infection on his elbow and called up and said what should i do? are set if it doesn't get better go to the urgent care place. so we go to the urgent care place the next day and they give him some antibiotics. he wakes up and it blows up to the size of a balloon. he goes to the emergency room in south florida and they admit him and suddenly they are telling us he has merce, the antibiotic resistance bug. in these situations these infections can cascade very quickly. the term life threatening was thrown around. so i just remembered lying awake
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in fear, having that palpable sense of fear occupying my body. i was so afraid and i was picking about these peopthinkin lost their loved ones on the deepwater horizon and as you do in these situations you allow your mind to cascade into worse and worse case situations even though you are trying not to. and i remember thinking, wondering if the worst had happened, how i would even go on with my life. i couldn't even imagine it. he had a series of surgeries to treat the wood. the last was this morning before i came out here. he is going to be fine. a few weeks he is not happy, he
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is going to miss his tennis instruction. he is going to be fine. the families of the people on the deepwater horizon will never have that comfort. i spend four months working on this book 14 hours a day, seven days week. i couldn't stop. i didn't begin writing it until july 4th and we wanted it to come out for the anniversary in april and i just couldn't stop for anything. i got very close to some of the people who survived, the families of some of the victims. i thought i felt a strong empathy for them and understood the pain they went through but in the last couple weeks i got a new understanding that i think
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only people who have that fear clutching at them can understand about what this means. this is something that takes away your breath, makes you wonder how you are going to wake up the next morning and go through another day. and all these people who suffered as a result of this are never going to get the relief of knowing that everything is ok. all it is going to take is a few weeks and then their loved ones, their son in my case is going to be out playing tennis, laughing with his friends, staying out too late and doing all those things that speak to joy and to life. once again, i felt the pain that these people felt. so when i started back in april of last year when this happened,
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i was like a lot of people. i didn't think much about where the gasoline in my car came from. i knew it was too expensive for my liking. i knew there were oil wells and that they were doing offshore oil drilling and i was concerned for the environment and i pictured it as a platform that was out sitting on pilings or something on sand in the gulf of mexico. i didn't think much -- i wondered about the guy is -- i understood they spent weeks out there and came home for weeks and went back out. but that was an unusual way to live. i didn't much affect about how they did it or who they were. the way this book came about was signing john konrad a was an oil rig captain himself wrote to my
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agent and said i think people are missing boat story and he was right. like me and like so many others i was horrified by the images of the oil coming out of that hole that you see on line 24/7. just amazing gusher of unstoppable oil and the idea that nobody knew how to turn it off and it was going on week after week and every time there was some hope, you hear a weird phrase like they're going to try a top killed and one that involved was dumping tons of junk in the hole to stop it up. which seems about like the kind of solution a 12-year-old might come up with. i grew up in sarasota, florida. i lived on siesta key a few blocks from the beach on this beautiful water in the gulf of mexico. i dug in those waters and fixed
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-- fish in those waters and had a deep and abiding love and this order thhorror that this black oil was flowing into the gulf of mexico really got to me but what john conrad said to my agent was people are missing the story because they can't understand what happened here or what it meant. this very unique and very special culture of offshore drilling. the first thing he said that caught my attention was this is and any kind of platform. the deepwater horizon was one of the most expensive and technologically advanced industrial machines ever built. it cost half a billion dollars
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ten years ago and would cost $1 billion to build one now. it was actually shipped. he was a captain and went to a maritime college to learn . he was a captain and went to a maritime college to learna ship. he was a captain and went to a maritime college to learn. he was a captain and went to a maritime college to learn how to pilot ships. it was a complicated system by which it held into place over the well using computers and thrusters that were computer-controlled and sensors like that gps sensor. all the sensors that measure the wind, tied and wave height and to keep this gigantic machine the size of two football fields put together hovering over a spot directly over the well, stable enough to go down and draw well. so i wanted to bring home--the
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people who go out there it is almost like they are band of brothers out there. that is there other family. they live there as much as they live at home. they make a living that a lot of these guys who are high school graduates or not even a making $60,000 to $100,000 a year in an economy that is not offering any other job. let me just read -- there is an amazing story of suspense here and i am going to read this natural horror movie type of thing that happens. mike williams was talking with his wife on the phone in an electronic technician shot when something came on the p a speaker. in the background she heard a
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natural gas level announced on the gas monitor, she asked if he needed to get off the phone to take care of that. he said it is just an indication to make everyone aware what the gas level were. i don't even hear them anymore. the number read 200 parts per million. of the cut off for all shipping the number read 200 parts per million. of the cut off for all shipping oil. that is when he started paying attention. then you heard a hissing noise. his first thought was they were running into the office next to the door. the operators were always slamming against the back hard enough to shake his office. that could account for something butg not the hissing. he said i need to check this out and see what is going o o he hung up and immediately heard something in the ventilation system. the event crossover to the engine control room. it was continuous and he knew it must be the local alarms but he hadg no idea what kind of alarm
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is. they kept coming one on top of the other. he nt ccr there wasg nothing routine about this. what was going on? he was trying to rationalize it. ready is false alarms? his mind was whirling trying to put the pieces together. the only conclusion he arrived at was he needed to get up from his desk and find out what was happening. jason could feel the well boiling. all thoughts of differential pressure or any other fan gillette -- fancy explanation grow wwer. the gas was coming. it had entered the welland moved up the colum o the pressure demmeases and liquefied gas >>-just. it began to expand rapidly, exponentially bigger still pushing everything bd thore it through miles of mud and see water. was almost there. as he lunged at the assistant driller to the panel he shouted call randy.
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i wanted to conveying. sorry about that. i just got a 10 minute signal. i decided to tell the portrait of the rig from the time it was built in korea ten years to the day before it exploded in the gulf of mexico. are wanted to tell the lwas the people on the rig. this is technology, drilling at a mile below the surface of the ocean is like drilling on the surface of the moo o the technology is comparable. a human being could get a
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quarter of the wwer down to whee they are drilling. ag nuclear submarine would be mmushed like a great when it got half way down to the depth they are drillingg now. there's no way humans can go down and start drillinille they have to do this inmmedibly complex thing. it is like building an issierte skysmmaper into the bottom of the ocean starting a mile down whereg no oceman can approach. and continuing down another 20,000 feet or so. imagine if you were given that task. where would you starting ono cfo unbelievable equipment. the three story high valve basically is the blowout preventer. before they can even start they have to get down to the sea floor. this is 353 times the piece of
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so.tompment is like millions an millions of dollars in and of itself. they have to figure out how to get it put into place. what they are trying to do is build a skysmmaper using a mile long pole from a ship floating on the surig.ace of the ocean i different winds and tides and conditions. people spend careers and lives, incredibly smart people devising tooe ab to g nu this. the language is so complex that when people explain how this happened they would use terms that when you got the definitions of those terms you need somebody to dd thine the definitions for you and you still couldn't understand. that is part of the problem.
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it is so complicated and technologically adgivnced federl regulators in the government are being paid less than the engineers hired by the oil companies. they don't know the stuff as well as thist g nu. they have to believe what people in the oil companies tell them and what happened in the deepwater horizon was not an accident. what happened was a series of decisions people made because it cost them $1 million every idey. that have been that every hour is costing them tens of thousands of dollars. it is a billion dollar piece of.
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what happens is they go and the time pressure makes them start cutting corners. they start doing things that are faster to save money even though the risks are higher and deepwater horizon the day it blew up, the vips from the two company's bp and transocean who owned the rig, came out and gave them an award for safe operations. they operated seven years without a single lost time incident and that tells you again how important not losing time is to them. time is money in everything but in the oil business it is a lot
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of money. what happens is blunders they go without a serious accident the more they feel justified in taking chances because they keep getting away with things. did is just like when we have a 36 inch snowfall we are really angry that it takes three days to get the streets plowed. if they were raising taxes to pay for enough snow equipment to deal with the 36 inch snowstorm which only happens once every hundred years we would be even angrier. viewing creased chances of a disaster and you can afford that i have spent $10 billion is it
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working? so people start being under pressure to save time and start cutting corners and what happens is they made those decisions and made a lot of decisions. when they were drilling the well they got to the bottom and what they needed to do was seal off the well from this highly pressurized -- some hot, dangerous liquid to incredible pressure and it was being held in place by the container and you drain the steel straw through the container it would be exploding out of their. they want the oil to come out but they don't want it to come exploding out. it is incredibly explosive and flammable. the engineers said this is dangerous. they did a computer modeling
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program that showed if you do it the way they are planning to it is going to come out and we need to do something that will be more expensive to make sure it doesn't blowout like that. they said we won't do that. you find a way to make it work the way we want to do it which is cheaper and faster. engineers got together and said here is what we can do. we have to use these extra things to make the steel pipes fit exactly in the center of the hole so deep cement will be solid and we make sure there are no pockets outside the steel pipe and the cement is what seal the. what did they do? they said thanks but we won't use those extra devices so they didn't. then they said ok, you have to make sure that the segment has
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sealed properly so you have to run an expensive test that could take half a day after words and they said thanks for that advice and ignored that as well. really unbelievable. then what happened is the crew on board got confused and they misread a reading that -- they weren't prepared. they made conscious decision after conscious decision that allowed the oil and gas to invade the well. it sure enough did. it burst out and it was like a gigantic cloud of methane gas over the rig and the engine started to rig. that caused sparks and blew it up and an hour and a half of sheer hell on earth and ten people died in the explosion and
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a crane operator fell to the ground and they could rescue him because the fire was beating them back. they lost 11 people and caused the worst ecological disaster in the history of the united states. the question is how can we prevent this in the future? you see now after that happened bp stock fell 50%. where is it today? it is back where it was. there were all these calls for increased regulation and a moratorium on oil drilling. where are we today? they are back where they were before. once again because people don't like paying $4.05 for a gallon of gasoline. they are saying we are going to address of -- aggressively expand offshore oil drilling. what that means is -- they say there will be some additional
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safety regulation. the people who are enforcing the regulations can't be involved in every decision on every rig in the gulf of mexico. they are going to -- nothing is going to happen and they will start taking the same chances. there was a character we focused on who was the first chief aide of the rig and he had this hobby where he likes to go on these small hydroplanes not much bigger than a person at 80 miles an hour in his off time. this is what he enjoyed doing in his off time. after this explosion where there is this whole thing in the book where he acted very heroically, this that and talk thing where two of the lifeboats kept blowing away. the other two leave without a captain and then him and another dozen people. they have to lower these rubber
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lifeboats and this bunsen burner is coming up around the rig and he is holding the thing to the rig. the heat is coming up and blowing -- burning his alarm. he is trying to keep his grip while his arm is singeing. it is very dramatic and very exciting and scary. he survived this thing and he goes home and to recuperate, next thing you know he is raising these boats and the boat flips and he is wearing a kevlar suit but it cuts through the leg of the suit and almost severs his leg but he is lucky. he only needs to go to the hospital and get stitches. but his wife who was almost killed by this day of not knowing whether he was alive or dead instantly goes on line and put all his boat for sale. when he gets out of the hospital he sweet talker and convinces her he will be safe now.
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then he makes her go to a race with him to show how much more cautious he is being and she says if he really was being more cautious, you know, a few years are going to go by and he will take the same chances that got him in this position because that is what humans do. unfortunately that is the truth. the only way -- john konrad says he thinks the way to make this happen is to encourage our best and brightest to think about careers in engineering and industry like this so that we have really good people doing this incredibly important and incredibly complicated work. that is important. and the other thing is to make the penalties for this sort of things so egregious, so strong that people who really can
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prevent these people -- these things, people making day-to-day decisions have an incentive to overcome this gigantic financial incentive that they have to go faster and cut corners. anyway, does anybody have any questions about anything related to the gulf oil spill? if you do just step up here. don't be shy. >> there was so much criticism -- [inaudible] -- i just don't know how you feel about the government's response. i know it changed as time went by but do you have a general sense of what they may have done differently? is there anything they could have done differently? >> the problem as i was saying, the conditions a mile deep in the ocean for pressure is so inaccessible and the pressure is
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so great, that pressure changes the physics of everything. makes it very difficult. it wasn't so much that they could have done something else though they did develop some technology in the process of trying to stop this that will come in handy if it happens again. what it showed is when you have a situation that can occur that you can't stop and you can't deal with you better make sure it doesn't occur in the first place. what it really says is we really need to take the prevention of this more seriously. it is not a thing to say we can make it 99% sure that this won't happen again because it will happen. that 1% will happen just like that 36 inch snow will happen given enough time. just like with the earthquake in japan. that was a once in a century event too.
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but centuries ago by. we could be living in the part of the century where that happens and as a result you have a whole part of japan that is going to be a problem for generations to come. we really need to restructure our thinking about risk and understand that if the harm is great enough that you can't just say this is only one in a 100 year event because that one in 100 your event is going to happen and it is going to happen again. right now there is nothing that has been done. absolute nothing that has been done to make what happened in deepwater horizon less likely to happen because what is the lesson of bp? the lesson is $20 billion cost of dealing with this bill, we made that up in six months. it is much better to deal with
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it after the fact that it is to spend the money to prevent it in the first place. go ahead. if you could step up to the microphone. >> did you have any moments when you learned something you didn't expect to learn doing your research? >> absolutely. the ahop moment was so complex that even the reporters covering this day to day couldn't understand what was going on but when i discovered that they actually -- that the engineers actually warned them that this was going to happen and they ignored them not once but three times, that was the moment when i thought it is not that complicated. this was not an unavoidable thing that happened due to complexity. this was something where people
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chose to take the risk because they wanted to save the money. it is that simple. it is not any more complicated than that. i don't think most people even our quite get that that is what happened. yes? >> as you talk to people did you find conflict in any of the communities over the role of the economic importance of these companies versus the environmental hazards? >> in the communities where they recruit people, this is the economic lifeline. to them it is sort of like food on your table and possibility of tar balls on the beach. there's not much of a context. these are people who there is no work in their home communities,
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they are making money, they go out and buy 80s and big fancy barbeques and they send their kids to college and do all the things people in urban areas like this take for granted. that otherwise would be completely inaccessible. so there is not much of a conflict. i think we all make similar decisions. that was our options for providing for our families and giving them all the things we see all around us. the other sort of moment i had where personal revelations -- one of the main characters here was achieve mechanic named doug brown. he was a guy i became pretty
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close to. he was in the engine room when the engine exploded. a steel door knocked him down. he had head injuries and his legs were screwed up. he also -- the hardest part -- hard to tell -- he had brain injuries so there is some behavioral change that can occur with that but he clearly has s dt dtsd. he could fix anything. he loved his job. he loved his engine. i talked to him recently and his wife was there and said he is standing in front of the garage, in front of the refrigerator just trying to put a screw where it needs to be and his hand is shaking so bad he can't even do that. he is not working any more. his full pay has run out. he is living and 60% because he
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worked four leaks -- three weeks on and three weeks off. his wife was never able to develop a career. the suit will take years to play out. this is what i was talking about in the beginning. it is so easy for the rest of us to go on and forget about this. when it is in your life and happens to you it is sort of like a 300 pound weight sitting on your chest day after day. i really feel for him. i have a tremendous respect, that is one thing i really try to say in the book. these people who -- these people do difficult, dangerous work that accomplishes miracles. what they are doing would have
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been impossible in any other era. the technology is unbelievable. this blowout preventer, they actually move it down to get it off of the rich get into the water. they have gantry systems so at one point this gigantic machine is on the gantry and goes out over a hole in the center of the rig that is ready to be dropped down almost exactly like a reverse moonwalk. is going down to the bottom of the world instead of up to the top. and the equipment is every bit as sophisticated. i have enormous respect, the engineers do brilliant things. these aren't evil characters who do these decisions.
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we make similar decisions. think about you have a headlight, technically you are not supposed to be on the road like that. you are supposed to get that fixed before you drive again. but we figure i just got to go get some milk. what are the chances anything bad will happen? we make the same kind of decision. it is human nature and that is why we have to understand that in order to begin to deal with the fact that the technologies we are applying whether it is nuclear power or offshore oil drilling, they are powerful technologies but the consequences of them screwing up can be something that will haunt all of us for generations. and forever. we have to learn a new way of human nature in order to deal
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with this stuff. otherwise it will happen over and over again. the quality of all our lives are going to be diminished slowly over a period of time. slowly eating until is boiling. thank you so much for coming out. i really appreciate it. [applause] i will be signing books for a while. >> thank you for attending. tom will be signing books that the autograph area. i want to remind you to fill out our surveys and sign up for our e-mail newsletter. enjoy the rest of the day. phil trupp will be coming up momentarily. [inaudible conversations]
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[inaudible conversations] >> tom shroder on the untold story of the gulf oil disaster. in a couple of minutes phil trupp will join us to discuss his book "ruthless: how ordinary investors beat the biggest scam in wall street history". we will be right back with more from the 2011 gaithersburg book festival in gaithersburg, maryland.

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